Lethal Weapon: still loaded after 25 years
Mismatched cops Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs first exploded onto cinema screens in Lethal Weapon on 6th March 1987, bringing an array of cracking one-liners, bullet-strewn bodies and a very dated sax score with them. Fast forward 25 years, and it's still the best 'buddy cop' action comedy out there.
Written by Shane Black, an aspiring 23-year-old screenwriter who had never sold a script before, Lethal Weapon harnesses director Richard Donner's eye for set pieces and brings out hugely engaging turns from Danny Glover and Mel Gibson alongside menacing support from Gary Busey. For Murtaugh's 50th birthday, his family surprised him with a cake while he soaked in the bath. Health and safety reasons dictate that we can't do the same for the movie's 25th, but we can serve up five reasons why Lethal Weapon is still a killer film…
1. It's the definitive buddy cop action comedy
"God hates me, that's what it is," blasts Murtaugh after he's paired with Riggs. "Hate him back. It works for me," responds his new partner. An 'Odd Couple' pairing being forced to work together and gain each other's respect was nothing new in 1987, but Lethal Weapon applied this concept to cops and set the standard. Movies such as Men In Black and Rush Hour were influenced by the stark clash in methods and outlooks that transpired between the duo. This can even be applied to Tom Hanks vehicle Turner And Hooch, although the police dog's growl is no match for Mel Gibson's.
2. "I'm getting too old for this s**t!"
'Buddy cop' movies try hard to muster a catchphrase that can seep into popular culture, but none come close to the immortality of Murtaugh's melancholic muttering – although The Other Guys contained some gems. "I'm too old for this s**t!" debuts during the first encounter between the central pairing, after Murtaugh realises that trying to disarm the mulleted, gun-toting figure who walked into the office was a bad idea. Funnily enough, Danny Glover was only 40 at the time of filming – ten years younger than his character. No prizes for guessing what Glover's key line was during his brief cameo in Gibson's Maverick.
3. The chemistry between the leads
"They found laughter where I never saw it; they found tears where they didn't exist before; and, most importantly, they found a relationship — all in just one reading". Those words from Richard Donner, fresh from filming The Goonies, highlight his shrewd piece of casting. From the fractious beginnings in which Murtaugh thinks Riggs is faking his mania for a 'psycho pension' to the warm-hearted banter about Mrs. Murtaugh's dodgy cooking, Gibson and Glover are mesmerising together. Their interaction is never better than in the police firing range scene, where Riggs shoots a 'smiley' on his stunned buddy's target.
4. The story's surprisingly dark
The many imitators to Lethal Weapon's throne such as Bad Boys and Showtime often suffer because they play up the verbal banter and shootouts, but overlook the prominent dark elements featured in Shane Black's superb script. Following his wife's death, Riggs is genuinely suicidal as epitomised by the harrowing scene (which reportedly landed Gibson the role of Prince Hamlet) in which he tearfully implores himself to blow his brains out while cradling a wedding photo on his lap. Black has since proved very adept at imitating his own work, particularly with The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
5. Mel Gibson going crazy (in a good way)
In recent years Mel Gibson's personal battles have overshadowed his career, with certain answer phone messages making Christian Bale's Terminator Salvation rant sound like a sermon. But that unhinged trait is perfect for Riggs, who opens a beer for breakfast and is soon handcuffing himself to a suicidal man threatening to jump off a building. "You think I'm crazy? You wanna see crazy?" he later shouts to a trio of drug dealers he's arguing with, before slapping himself in the face, doing the same to his adversaries while emitting a high pitched squeal and pulling a gun on them. Inspired insanity!
Much copied, occasionally lampooned, but never bettered in a genre it came to define, Lethal Weapon is still a scintillating watch in 2012. Above all, it showcases a cast and crew who are all on top of their game, providing laughs, visceral thrills and lumps in the throat. Roll on another 25 years and there's a good chance Lethal Weapon will still be defending its buddy cop crown.
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